The “Golden Hits Of The 60s” 

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“Last Night”

Satellite 107

No. 3   August 7, 1961




The Mar-Keys started out in 1957 as the Royal Spades. They all attended Messick High in Memphis, and all

liked that funky black sound. Initially, the group con­ sisted of Charles “Packy” Axton (tenor sax), Steve

Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), Charlie Freeman (guitar), Terry Johnson (drums), and

occasionally Jerry Lee “Smoochie” Smith (piano).


Estelle Axton and her brother, Jim Stewart–both bankers by day–had just set up a small make-shift

recording studio in Brunswick, Tennessee.  When the two ventured into the realm of record-making, they

decided to name their label after those huge, thorny­ looking golf balls that Cape Canaveral was blasting

into space. Unfortunately, one immediate result of the suc­cess of Satellite, “Last Night” was the threat of

legal action by a similarly-named California company, so Jim and Estelle quickly renamed their label

“Stax Records” (Stewart+ Axton).


The first few Satellite singles failed to lift off.  Meanwhile, the Royal Spades–who in various configura­tions

appeared on some of these early efforts–tight­ened up their chops playing sock hops, bars, and other

venues, practicing every weekend in the primitive Stax studios in East Memphis. They backed up early

Stax hit-makers like Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla.  But it was “Last Night,” a deceptively simple,

blues­ riffin’ instrumental worked up by those studio musi­cians, that established the trademark Stax

sound–a sound that in its day was as unique, and nearly as influential, as Detroit’s Motown sound.


“When we put it out, it exploded like nothing had ever exploded before,” Estelle Axton told Peter Gural­nick

in Sweet Soul Music.  ‘Tm telling you, I sold over 2,000 of it one by one over the counter [of Satellite’s

record store].  They certified a million on it eventually . .. I was so proud of it.  I’ve never been so proud of

a record in my life.”


The tune reportedly evolved over a six-month peri­od, and went through so many changes that the actual

line-up of personnel present on the disk is in dispute.  Guralnick has theorized that present for the session

were probably Curtis Green (drums), Bob McGee (bass), “Smoochie” Smith, and a horn line-up compris­

ing Packy, Gilbert Caples (tenor sax), and Floyd New­man (baritone sax).  Yet it was the ever-evolving

Royal Spades–Axton, Cropper, Dunn, Smith, and Johnson, plus Wayne Jackson (trumpet) and Don Nix

(baritone sax)–who would tour and record as “The Mar-Keys.”


Before the name was scrapped in the early ’70s, sev­eral albums appeared, as did singles like “Morning

After” (#60, 1961), “Pop-Eye Stroll” (#94, 1962), and “Philly Dog” (#89, 1966).  Despite the act’s success,

internal frictions appeared almost immediately.   Even by the end of 1960, Steve and Duck were off to join

Booker T Jones and AI Jackson, Jr., in the label’s second classic back-up unit, Booker T & The MGs.   By

1965, Packy was fronting the Packers, a studio act that chart­ed with a Mar-Keys knock-off called “Hole in

the Wall” (#43, 1965).  Nix went on to produce artists like Jeff Beck, Delaney & Bonnie, Albert King,

Freddie King, and John Mayall.


Both Packy Axton and Charlie Freeman have since passed away.